Patrick: Lessons Learned and Lives Changed

Patrick (a senior at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Massachusetts) has loved every minute of his Unified Theater experience. It is one that he feels his school has been needing. At a UT event in Boston this past spring, he and other L-S students shared their enthusiasm for Unified Theater with Boston-area supporters. This is what Patrick had to say:

"One night last fall, I went with a group of friends from school to go see our school’s production of Les Mes. It was a big night out and we all had a great time. Everyone was captivated by the production and loved it. That night as I drove home I thought about how much fun we all had watching the show and hanging out with each other. I also thought about the realities of the situation. It saddened me that my school’s production didn’t really represent the entire school. The cast and crew were comprised of a very specific group of people who had spent years in the theater program, and not the variety of classmates I see on a day-to-day basis. If you weren’t skilled and experienced in theater you were always in the audience, and never on the stage. So much of our school is exclusive and prohibits people from trying new things. This all changed for my school just a few weeks later when I heard that our school was starting a program called Unified Theater, a production for people of all abilities and experiences. I dropped everything and knew that I wanted to be involved, as this was the opportunity I had wished for a. Theater was something that was out of my comfort zone, but I decided to go for it. Saying yes and signing up for Unified Theater was the best choice I had ever made in made in my high school career. 

Word of this program spread around the school. People from all grades, social groups, education programs and after school activities signed up. All anyone needed was an open mind and a willingness to try something new. From the very first rehearsal I knew it would be something special. I learned that Catherine could rock the drums; I learned Madison was a budding singer and I learned Molly and Susan were really great at choreographing a dance; I made new friends and reconnected  with old ones. Around me I saw new friendships forming, and I see these friendships today, everyday in the hallway, long after our last practice.

The entire Unified Theater experience meant so much to me, and I know that I will remember the night of our performance for the rest of my life.  The energy in the room was contagious, and everyone in the theater that night could not stop smiling. A parent told me after the show how awesome that felt, and I could only respond that that was how good every practice felt also. We were surrounded by positive energy and surrounded by love. I remember seeing one of our cast members, Kristin, cry from pure happiness while dancing to Brave and I knew right then how much Unified Theater meant to her and how much it meant to everyone involved, regardless of what programs they were involved with in school, what they could or could not do, or what social stigmas people used against them. None of that really matters, and that night our production made that clear for everyone to see. We are proud of who we are, and we are proud of each other.

Our school’s Unified Theater experience didn’t end after the final practice or our show. I see the impact of UT everyday in my school. I see that real genuine friendships that have developed between students; friendships where people don’t ever feel the need use words like “buddy” or “partner”. I see students more comfortable with themselves and more confident than ever. I personally learned to step out of my comfort zone and just go for it. I came into Unified Theater having known literally nothing about the arts, and now have the confidence to pursue the theater in the future. I learned real, practical leadership skills that aren’t just a series of clichés and I was able to put them to use at UT practices, the hallway, in class and outside of school. In our student leader training session we talked a lot about inclusion, and how to be an Ambassador of Inclusion. This lesson resonated with me and the way I approach people has changed. I have become more understanding of everyone’s needs and have become more approachable because of it. I learned the value of my non-verbal communication skills and learned powerful a change in my tone of voice or smile can be. 

And because of our show I know that many people have learned to look beyond labels and expectations to see the ability in each of us. Unified Theater was the highlight of my high school career and I hope that more students have this wonderful opportunity to put the Spotlight on Ability just like we had. We saw so much growth in just our first year in the program and I cannot wait to see next year’s production. So much of my schooling has been coloring in the lines that someone else had already drawn for me, stifling my creativity because I was forced to do something the way it had been done hundreds of times before. Unified Theater encouraged me to color outside of the lines and create my own story and make my own memories."

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